LOS ANGELES (AP) — Blake Griffin is healthy just in time for the playoffs. The question now: How rusty is his game?
“I don’t know the answer. We’ll see,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said Saturday on the eve of his team’s first-round series with the Portland Trail Blazers. “Blake’s had not only five games, but some practices time as well. It’s not the exact way you would have wanted it. But we got him back, and that’s better than not getting him back.”
Griffin missed 45 games because of a partially torn right quad, and a fractured right hand from a fight with an assistant equipment manager. The Clippers won the first nine that he missed and were 30-15 overall during his absence, which included a four-game suspension from the team for the fight in Toronto.
“When you look at the stretch where Blake was out, it was like everyone had their days. That’s how we had to play this year, and it was good for us in the long run,” Rivers said. “It forced us to play small for 48 minutes a night, which I didn’t think I would ever do, but it allowed is to get into a great rhythm.”
The Clippers had the fourth-best record in the Western Conference and will host the first two games of this series. That should help Rivers gauge whether his club has the goods to get past the second round for the first time in the franchise’s 47-year history.
MORE FUEL TO THE FIRE: Both of the Clippers’ playoff series last year against San Antonio and Houston were decided in seven games. Griffin averaged 25.5 points during those games, but the Clips led three games to one before dropping the next three.
“I wouldn’t use the word underachieving, but we expect to go farther this time,” Griffin said. “I like where we’re at from a mental standpoint. We have the reassurance that we’ve been here before, and that experience alone has helped us get in the right mindset going into the playoffs.”
“You don’t know what you are really until you’re tested, but these guys have been tested all year,” Rivers said. “Every team and every year is different when you go to the playoffs, so you don’t have any of those answers until the playoffs.”
Rivers, who guided Boston to an NBA title in 2008, is second among active coaches in playoff wins with 77 – second behind Gregg Popovich’s 152 with the five-time champion Spurs.
BLAZER BEATERS: The Clippers won the last three meetings with Portland during the regular season after losing the first one. This is the first time these two teams will be meeting in the playoffs since the rivalry began in 1970-71, the season that both franchise entered the NBA.
“It’s different in the playoffs because it’s a different environment,” center DeAndre Jordan said. “But I feel like when we’re a healthy team, we can beat anybody. And we have so much depth now.”
BACKCOURT CHALLENGE: Point guard Damien Lillard led the Blazers with a 25.1 average and backcourt mate C.J. McCollum was right behind at 20.8. Portland has two former Clippers in small forward Al-Farouq Aminu and backup center Chris Kaman.
“The game that they won, they outrebounded us by a considerable margin, so the rebounding battle is important because they play hard and their bigs crash the boards,” Griffin said. “Corralling C.J. and Damien is on us as a team, not just on the guards. So it’s going to have to be a team effort from top to bottom.”